Part One: Comics
From worst to best of what I voluntarily paid money for.
Secret Wars #4
It's not even that it's a bad comic. It's just that, well, at this point it's become impossible to read this comic as a separate phenomenon from the overall realignment of Marvel comics (see part two of this post). Here we have what is in effect a brutal rejection of an entire line of thought in Marvel comics that has been going for several years - the Cyclops-as-Revolutionary angle. The comic is explicitly configured to allow Cyclops's vision of fiery rebirth a moment in the sunlight and then to cut it down. Specifically in favor of a Reed vs Doom story. Although with the knowledge that both X-Men and Fantastic Four are being consciously downplayed within Marvel right now for broader corporate reasons, it's tough to see that as a promising dualism either.
The real problem, though, is that I've always wanted to root for the Cyclops-as-Revolutionary angle. I've always thought that challenge to what superhero narratives are was worth exploring seriously and allowing the possibility of moral validity. Hickman turns away from it very, very hard here. I reject that, aesthetically. It's not even that I think Cyclops is morally right. I think that's a functionally meaningless question within the melodramatic metaphysics of a superhero universe. It's that I think Cyclops is a vehicle for giving voice to perspectives superhero narratives don't usually get to explore, and that Hickman gave him depressingly short shrift here.
Yes, there's more issues and this may turn around. But this is a review of this specific issue. And given Secret Wars demands to be read as a meta-commentary on the state of Marvel Comics, I think what it's saying this month is rank fucking bullshit.
Grant Morrison's 18 Days #1
Honestly, I just think it's unfair to ask the world to offer any sort of critical judgment of this, and I'm half-inclined to say that I'm going to buy it and not review it. It's clearly not a major Grant Morrison project. And look, I don't begrudge him taking the money and running, which he's clearly done with this. But this book is a Kirby pastiche reworking of the Mahabharata with an artist who is not Jack Kirby. And a writer who is not Jack Kirby. It's pretty. It's competent. But what on Earth is one supposed to say of it? Morrison is in the backmatter comparing himself favorably to Lord of the Rings and Shakespeare. This issue doesn't stand up to either. But equally, it seems vital to note that the problem is not what the book is - a western comic based on Hindi mythology. The problem is that this is just a Kirby pastiche of novel subject matter.
Ultimate End #3
There's a shell game here, obviously. This book inherits its premise from other bits of Secret Wars. Not all of those bits are out yet. So the precise nature of Manhattan and of this mash-up of the 616 and Ultimate Universes is not yet revealed. I am interested in that question. The problem is, like Jason Aaron's Thor run, it's an intellectual problem, not a story.
Darth Vader #7
We switch to the good stuff for the week, I'm happy to say. Or, at least, what we might call the "good but didn't quite work for me" stretch of reviews. This is capable, interesting, and still a Star Wars comic that I'm buying purely for the fact that I enjoy watching the writer work. In this case he doesn't do anything that immediately grabs me, which is in no way a valid criticism.
Years of Future Past #2
A serviceable comic undermined by the fact that anything X-Men and Secret Wars related is aggressively ephemeral. That's not a problem of course; the demand that comics "matter" is a very silly one based on a misunderstanding of what comics are. The problem, I think, is that Bennett is too restrained as a writer. She's got loads of talent and style - the Colossus monologue page is a brilliant piece of style. She writes a brilliant Magneto. The final page reveal is a massive grin-inducer. But she has a post-apocalyptic team of mutants none of whom have to survive, and this book comes off as timid compared to its canvas.
I can tell that this is a well-structured issue. It's obvious that it's an interesting plot beat to throw at issue #50 of a sixty-issue series. It pays off a lot of stuff. It's clearly a good comic. And I am entirely aware that my problem with this issue is quite literally my problem - one unique to me, and a failing on my part as a reader. That said, it builds to a final page reveal that depends on my being able to identify a character who has no dialogue in this issue. And... I can't. I forget who the blonde woman in Chu's arms is. I don't remember her relationship with anyone. I'm sure she's done stuff in the book and is important, but... nope. Total blank. So the whole thing just sort of... deflates for me. Like I said, my fault. My failing. Still didn't work for me.
It's interesting to basically watch a book be demoed on a setting other than its actual one. Which is to say, I like A-Force, the comic about female Avengers led by She-Hulk. I like the takes on the major characters. I like the choices of major characters. But this still falls slightly short for me. I think it's because, as an issue, it's kind of vacant. As with Years of Future Past, Bennett (and she would appear to be lead on this issue) doesn't really go for the sort of "and now for the big moment" revelry that the pop comics style she's a best fit for demands. There's no moment that feels like punching the air and saying "that's what I spent my money for." She's good. I think she can deliver some top drawer comics. But she needs to work on that aspect of her game.
The Wicked and the Divine #12
And now we shift to the great stuff. And this is great. Gillen handles the shift away from McKelvie well. Kate Brown is a good transitional artist for this, maintaining the book's basic visual grammar but introducing us to a spin on the premise. But this is a calm between the storms issue; Gillen is running out the clock, going down some side alleys and doing his worldbuilding. But it's an obvious bit of non-misdirection. He's flagging, in a variety of ways, that we're eventually going to circle back to Laura and, by extension, Lucifer. I mean, if nothing else, gee, it's funny how every god who's died so far is an underworld god. I WONDER WHAT THE AFTERLIFE IS LIKE.
Which works. There's a tension of an eventual reveal that infuses a side trip like "let's pay attention to Cass's old assistants for an issue" with a really compelling tension, especially as the larger "who's going to figure out what Ananke is actually up to first" game plays out in the background. As serialize drama, the moving parts are exquisitely put together.
Equally, and again this comes down to "we're judging issues here, not books," Gillen makes a Sandman analogy in the backmatter that's on point. This issue - maybe this arc, but certainly this issue - is one of those side trips like the dead boy detectives in Seasons of Mists or the entirety of World's End - a conscious step away from the main story. And the truth is... well, that's why Sandman works better in trade.
The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #7
What can I say. Ryan North is funny. He has clever ideas. This book shows that off. There are many highlights, and I will not spoil it for anyone who hasn't read it. Oh, OK. Ratatoskr.
Sheer bravado. Uber's version of "Blackwater" or "The Watchers on the Walls," with an entire issue spent on a single battle. With twenty-five issues of buildup that have screamed loudly that this is not a book that offers a rosy view of war or history, the idea of a major battle testing a sympathetic character's technical capabilities is genuinely terrifying. Uber has taught us to fear, very much, for our main characters. And this issue trades on that, while maintaining an exquisite balance of personal character focus and sweeping historical scope. Small moments and big ones juxtapose. It's awful. It's ugly. It's intriguing. It's brilliant. Fucking hell, this book.
Part Two: The Marvel Previews
From best to worst, with a clear marker of where the stuff I'll buy ends.
- Karnak - Well, it'll only be six issues, but this is delightfully batshit.
- Ms. Marvel - "Crushed it" indeed.
- Spider-Man - Love me some Miles Morales.
- A-Force - Wilson is an autobuy. Love the cast.
- Ultimates - Galactus on a team book by Al Ewing, yes please. Also Miss America. All the yes.
- Invincible Iron Man - Bendis on Iron Man sounds a safe bet.
- All-New All Different Avengers - Great cast, Waid's a reasonably secure bet as a writer.
- Uncanny Avengers - Have liked enough of what I've seen of Duggan to try this, but Deadpool is worrisome.
- New Avengers - Buying entirely because Ewing is an autobuy for at least a first issue, but nothing that grabs me here as such. Squirrel Girl's nice.
- Guardians of the Galaxy - Bendis is, ultimately, still an autobuy, although this has hardly been my favorite book of his.
- Contest of Champions - Seems very silly, but I'll always give an Ewing book a shot, as I said, and very silly could be fun.
- Spider-Gwen - The abrupt pause in the series after #5 definitely screwed up momentum on this for me, not least because it wasn't a great issue, so this could end up being a jumping off point for me eventually, but it's not yet.
- Angela: Asgard's Assassin - As the above reviews suggest, Bennett isn't quite catching for me, but I kind of want to give her more chance, and I am already invested in the plot here. This is the lowest-ranked book to be a definite buy for #1.
- Spider-Woman - The premise grabs me, and I have a vague intention of giving Hopeless a try, as I don't think I gave him a fair shake previously, so this is the best bet of where that might happen.
- Howard the Duck - Have had enough recommendations for this that I mean to check out the first run. If that's good, will buy this too.
- Sam Wilson, Captain America - Nick Spencer can be good, and I like the idea of a Sam/Steve schism. Give me more premise and we'll see.
- Daredevil - Soule is hit and miss, but he does do good lawyers, and the Daredevil/Gambit pair is intriguing.
- Web Warriors - Maybe, as I like some of the characters, but I'm pointedly trying to keep my pulls down, and this seems exactly the sort of book I can decide against.
- The Totally Awesome Hulk - I don't know, who is the Hulk? I tend not to like questions like that, but the name charms me.
- Venom: Spaceknight - OK, those are not two words I expected to see together, and that raises an eyebrow at least.
- Uncanny Inhumans - Probably not, as I haven't fallen in love with any of Soule's previous Inhumans work, but I'm not saying no.
- All-New Wolverine - OK, this doesn't grab me inherently, but mostly because I don't know who Taylor is. I like the art and the premise. The highest-ranked "maybe" for me - everything below this is a 0% chance of my buying it barring new information.
- Amazing Spider-Man - Haven't loved Slott's stuff post-Superior Spider-Man, and think this will be my exit from Spider-Man.
- Captain Marvel - I haven't gotten to Agent Carter episode two yet, and it's been months, so I don't think this team will win me back.
- All-New X-Men - Of the three X-Men books, this is the most promising, not least as I do mean to give Hopeless a try on something, as I said. But with the X-Men line on the whole looking droppable right now, this falls below the plausibility point.
- Extraordinary X-Men - Lemire and Ramos are both "not dealbreaker" sorts of creators, so this just sort of leaves me cold, but I do like the feel for an X-Men book.
- Uncanny X-Men - Interesting premise, but I have no faith in either Bunn or Marvel tackling this sort of sinister X-book.
- Nova - Gutted to see that this does not feature the awesome Nova family from Infinity Gauntlet.
- Doctor Strange - I don't think I like Jason Aaron's work.
- The Mighty Thor - Will be dropping this, as I just don't dig the angle.
- Hawkeye - I like the Clint vs Kate premise, but I've not been following post-Fraction Hawkeye, and this doesn't look set to grab me.
- Spider-Man 2099 - Glad people who like this have a book.
- Star-Lord - Haven't felt a hole in my life without a Star-Lord book before, don't imagine I'll start now.
- Old Man Logan - Not the Wolverine book I suspect I want.
- Ant-Man - Just sort of the purest distillation of "meh" for me.
- Silk - The character hasn't grabbed me yet, and the villainy tone of the solicit leaves me cold.
- Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. - I don't even like the television series.
- Drax - Can't see this working for me.
- Vision - Don't know the writer, no obvious hook in the premise, not a character that grabs me
- Illuminati - this looks utterly not like my thing.
- Deadpool - I don't like Deadpool.
- Howling Commandos of S.H.I.E.L.D. - Cute premise, but this seems the embodiment of "cool idea but not a book I would enjoy." Low place mainly due to the appalling resolution of the art, I suspect.
- Scarlet Witch - Robinson does not currently interest me, especially not after this shitstorm.
- Squadron Supreme - Cannot imagine why I would buy this.
- Carnage - I loathe Conway's work.